James Shirley, The Bird in a Cage: First performed 1633: First printed 1633

Clare McManus (Editor)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


“This is the piece made up of all performance” (II.i. 406): the duke’s description of Rolliardo, the disguised Philenzo, also encapsulates The Bird in a Cage. Shirley’s play is a remarkable survey of early modern performance culture. First printed and staged at the Phoenix, or Cockpit, in Drury Lane in 1633, it showcases the diversity of early modern theatricality inside and outside the playhouses. A pastiche of theatrical tropes and performance modes, its action consists of disguise, magic, spectacular props, and tricks played on both characters and audience. Its characters—male and female—live by performance, whether they are courtiers seeking edification or entertainment or those who, like Bonamico disguised as the mountebank Altomaro, scrabble for a living. This is not the bitter metatheatricality of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays like Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy (1585) or Thomas Middleton’s Revenger’s Tragedy (1606); Shirley’s comedy is an altogether lighter meditation on a culture saturated with performance, and it shows early modern theater in all its vitality.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Anthology of Early Modern Drama
EditorsJeremy Lopez
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages60
ISBN (Electronic)9781315667188
ISBN (Print)9781138953802, 9781138953796
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes

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